Nationals catch up with school kids

Nationals catch up with schoolchildren

WASHINGTON -- On a morning when Washington was dealing with its first winter snowfall and many were talking about the upcoming Super Bowl matchup, the children at Kimball Elementary School had baseball on their minds.

The Washington Nationals "adopted" Kimball Elementary on Monday as part of their community outreach efforts. Manager Manny Acta, outfielder Nook Logan and pitcher Mike O'Connor came to the school and talked to the kids about baseball and life, posed for pictures, signed autographs and, without question, left an impression on the approximately 275 children who watched for nearly two hours.

"An event like this is inspirational for the students," said Kimball principal Shell'a West-Miller. "You now have ... famous people that come in and put inspiration into the children, speaking to the children about their background. They're not coming from just being famous; they've had to earn it. Somewhere in this crowd, there's another National player coming up. I really believe that."

This program will have members of the Nationals hooking up with the school in a number of ways. Front-office members will participate in a beautification day there and help with after-school tutoring. The Nationals also are going to host a Kimball Family Day this season at RFK Stadium, providing tickets and a pregame recognition ceremony for the school's parent volunteers and families.

Tickets also will be donated to those who get the Kimball Elementary Principal's Award at the end of this school year.

This event also was the beginning of a week-long Winter Caravan that will work its way through Maryland, Virginia and the District, helping the Nationals connect with more of their fans before heading to Spring Training in mid-February.

Acta and Logan answered questions during the first part of the program, and O'Connor came a little later because he had a rehab session scheduled earlier. Acta clearly enjoyed talking to the children and showed a deft touch in mixing humor into answers while making sure his message got across.

A few times, the subject of Acta's Spanish accent came up. He explained to the children he was from the Dominican Republic and didn't learn to speak English until the age of 18. So, he volunteered to teach one student some quick Spanish, explaining that "hola" means "hello."

One student asked if going to live in different cities meant always having to find new friends. Acta said the answer was sometimes yes, sometimes no. He said your real friends will always be there, but that kids have to be sure to connect with the right people, something he explained after the event.

"I think it's important for kids to learn, at this age, early in their lives, so they know that their real friends [need to be good]," he said. "I do it a lot with the kids where I come from. I tell them it's OK to take a different path than your friends have taken because you just don't want to be associated with somebody that's going to drag you down in life. People just need to have the courage to stand up and make the right decisions."

Cindy Acta played a big role in this event coming together, and she said her husband loves talking to kids and trying to give them a positive message.

"He loves meeting people, and he loves the children," she said. "He enjoys it. You can tell by the way he presents himself, and hopefully the kids will get the affection from him and do what they need to do."

Logan also answered several questions and told the kids they needed to stick to hard work if they wanted to be a baseball player -- or a doctor or a lawyer or an accountant. He told them anything was possible if they believed.

He also joked that he wanted to be a basketball player first, and actually was very good, but eventually moved over to baseball.

"I was decent, and I played the point guard and shooting guard," Logan said later. "I'm here [now], and this is what I do. I just go out in the community and show the kids that we care about what they do. They watch us on TV, and this ... gives them a little energy to get out and try to do whatever they want to do."

Logan and Acta walked throughout the auditorium after the question-and-answer session to give each student books the Nationals donated. Each kid got an age-appropriate book as part of collaboration with the Heart of America Foundation, which will provide books to children whenever a Nationals player visits a library or classroom.

Marquez Roseburn is a 9-year-old fourth-grader who loved the show. He stood there at the end, wearing the red Nationals visor the team gave out, smiled and succinctly summarized what he had seen.

"I saw three baseball players, and I learned that it's good to play baseball," Roseburn said. "It's a fun game, and if I sign up for Little League, I'll also have a lot of fun."

Jeff Seidel is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.